The Mind Of Mr Soames
Until now, when people compiled lists of horror films by Hammer also-rans
Amicus, The Mind Of Mr Soames was never mentioned. Described simply
as "well intentioned" by Jonathan Rigby in his exhaustive tome
English Gothic, and steadfastly ignored by pretty much everyone
else, Soames may be more sci-fi than outright horror, but I'd contend
that there is horror there - it may even be the studio's only stab at
putting the Frankenstein story on-screen.
Set firmly in the groovy Amicus-land of the late 60s, Soames is
also the perfect antidote to the rest of the company's output of the time
(Scream And Scream Again etc) in that it's
thoughtful rather than stoopid, languorously paced and rather charming.
John Soames (Terence Stamp) is a man who has been in a coma since birth,
meaning that although his body has fully matured, his mind has never been
stimulated. Kept alive intravenously over the years, he lies in a glass
coffin in a cold, sterile institute.
As his 30th birthday approaches, moves are afoot to wake him up. A specialist,
Dr Burger (Robert "Man From Uncle" Vaughn) is brought
over from LA, and the owner of the institute, a Dr Maitland (Nigel Davenport),
has arranged for the entire event to be broadcast live on television.
In fact (in what is quite an accurate prediction of things to come in
the real world) Maitland has decided that once awake, Soames' life will
be played out in front of the cameras. Neurologists, scientists and surgeons
from all over the world attend the "birth", with the TV commentator
giving a running commentary on the operation: "The drilling is about
to form an entry to the brain
When, following the operation, Burger is congratulated on a "good
show", he begins to realise that Maitland may not have his patient's
best interests at heart - but by then it's too late, and all they can
do is wait to see if their "baby" will wake up. There's a real
sense of wonder as we wait with them, too. And when it happens, it's brilliant
- Burger telling the new arrival: "Welcome to the human race, John
Soames. Go on, let it out. It was never easy being born."
Soames is immediately put on an accelerated learning programme, with his
every move recorded for posterity. Maitland has set himself up as parent
and teacher to the "child", but he refuses to allow Soames access
to anything other than his carefully orchestrated programme. When Burger
discovers this, he brings in a variety of groovy late 60s games for him
to play (Buckaroo, anyone?) and then (horror of horrors) allows Soames
outside to muck about in the garden. Soames (resplendent in his big pink
babygrow) is having a high old time until Maitland discovers what is going
on, sending loads of burly security guards out to drag him back inside.
This rough treatment has exactly the effect you'd expect - he's originally
upset (heartbreakingly, when told he can go out again later, he replies
"No. They will hurt me."), and then angry - twatting a security
guard over the head (and killing him) to regain his freedom.
Soames is off and into the big wide world - a grown man with a mentalist
haircut, wearing a one-piece pink suit and unable to string a coherent
He finds a motorway ("red car!") and a pub, where he helps himself
to a drink and a sandwich (very 60s choice - cheese or lettuce), but can't
pay and gets kicked out. He then joins in a game of football with some
kids (for "joins in" read "ruins"), and to top his
big day gets run over by a drunk driver.
The driver takes him home (rather than admit to the authorities that he'd
been drinking), and Soames wakes up in a strange bed. Up until this point
no-one has recognised him, which seen in this day and age seems quite
odd - after all, he'd be a celebrity in the 21st century. But the media
have cottoned on (the Daily Mirror's headline is "Can this baby kill?")
and the driver's wife knows who he is.
"Poor Mr Soames, I don't know what they did to you," she tells
him. "It was my useless, drunken husband that knocked you down. He's
much more dangerous than you
He certainly is, because although she's on Soames' side, the husband has
phoned the authorities and the fugitive has to do a bunk and is on the
run again. This time he gets onto a train, where he terrifies a mousey
young girl by indicating he'd like her apple (shades of Horror
Hospital there) and blathering on about "London is the capital
of England" and "There are many trees in the institute
I do not like the institute." (I have to say that I'd be scared at
this point - in fact, there's a point where you wonder exactly which way
the film makers are going to take this).
Soames ends up cornered by the police, the media and the scientists in
a rain-lashed barn, where the glimmer of a happy ending can just about
be seen through all the darkness.
The tale is basically Hammer's take on Frankenstein
without the stitched-together oaf - Maitland is the Baron, a cold and
ruthless man uninterested in his "creation", despite giving
him life. Burger is the more idealistic, thoughtful type of scientist,
so often drafted in to help in Hammer's cycle of films - before the operation,
he comments "Are you sure we should try to wake him? He looks happier
than most conscious people
Soames is the "monster" - a child in a man's body, unable to
control himself, confused and angry - and of course, eventually accidentally
taking someone's life. He even takes refuge in a "blind" (she
doesn't know who he is) woman's home until discovered, and if you substitute
villagers for the TV crew and flaming torches for their spotlights, the
parallels of this film's rain-soaked climax with the ending of many of
Hammer's gothic fantasies are striking.
And it's worth mentioning that Stamp's performance throughout is extraordinary.
What could be an appallingly embarrassing turn (grown people playing children
rarely works) just isn't, somehow. It's a testament to the man's talent
that at no point do you think he's anything other than 100 per cent genuine,
whether he's making you laugh (the scene where he bounces a ball off Maitland's
head is superb), cry (the moment before he makes his escape) or even just
worrying you (the scene on the train).
The Mind Of Mr Soames is a dark gem, and a worthy pretender to
the British horror hall of fame.